Trauma 101

Trauma 101

It’s time for a quick trauma 101. Let’s look at some of the most frequent questions. What is trauma? What are the risk factors? What are the symptoms? How do we treat trauma?

What is trauma?

Trauma is a powerful emotional response to a distressing event, such as war, an accident, the unexpected loss of a loved one, or abuse. Trauma can continue to cause both emotional and physical symptoms for many years after the event has concluded.

Trauma is complicated. It can be obvious, with a clear cause, and symptoms that seem to make sense. Or, trauma can be buried beneath depression, anxiety, and anger, without any recognizable origin. The causal event may have occurred a week ago, or half a century in the past.

Trauma Risk Factors

  • The traumatic experience was unexpected.
  • The trauma occurred during childhood.
  • The victim has experienced past traumas.
  • Feelings of helplessness during the experience.
  • The experience happened repeatedly, or over a prolonged period.
  • The victim is dealing with other major stressors, unrelated to the trauma.

Symptoms of Trauma

Everyone’s experience with trauma is unique. Some people will develop every symptom, while others may develop very few.

  • Avoidance of trauma reminders, including memories.
  • Flashbacks to the traumatic event.
  • Exaggerated startle response.
  • Distressing dreams and other sleep issues ¡Irritability, anger, and other negative emotions.
  • Self-blame regarding the traumatic event.

Treating Trauma

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – CBT is a common and well supported treatment for Trauma disorders. CBT works by identifying and challenging unhealthy thinking patterns that contribute to the symptoms of trauma. The benefits of CBT can be long lasting.
  • Psychoeducation – This can help by normalizing the experience of trauma, and by giving a name to the enemy. It can help your clients build the confidence they need to know they can get better.
  • Exposure Therapy – During exposure therapy the patient is exposed to reminders of their trauma in a gradual and safe way. With enough exposure, the trauma begins to lose its emotional power, and the symptoms diminish. Exposure therapies have extensive research support.
  • Medication – Medication may be used to manage the symptoms of trauma, such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Medication can be especially valuable when a person’s symptoms are so intense that they are unable to participate in psychotherapy.
  • Other treatments – Many other treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and group therapy have all been found to be helpful for survivors of trauma.

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